The fall of Claudine Gay is a blow to the cult of DEI
How did a plagiarist end up at the pinnacle of American academia?
Claudine Gay, the embattled president of Harvard, stepped down from her prestigious perch yesterday. Her resignation came after a month of furious criticism for her tepid response to virulent anti-Semitism on her campus, which was then followed by multiple allegations of plagiarism.
Because woke ideologues are utterly shameless, I had doubted Gay’s resignation would ever come. For almost a month, her conduct was defended not only by the billionaire-led board that governs Harvard, but also by former US president Barack Obama. This is despite what was blindingly obvious to everyone who is not ideologically captured – namely, that Gay stood credibly accused of committing not one but two of the worst crimes in academia: plagiarism and appearing blasé about racism.
For years, students and staff in America’s most prestigious universities have faced extreme restrictions on what they can and cannot say about race. But when a group of Harvard students blamed Israel ‘entirely’ for Hamas’s massacre of Jews on 7 October, Gay’s administration failed to deliver even the mildest rebuke. The hypocrisy was staggering.
Given Harvard’s dreadful record of censorship, and the ostentatious stands it has taken against other forms of racism, this clearly couldn’t be put down to a dogged – and welcome – devotion to free-speech absolutism. Meanwhile, Harvard students reported a slew of anti-Semitic incidents on campus.
Gay’s recent appearance at a congressional hearing, in which she and other university presidents could only offer boilerplate responses to questions about anti-Semitism, reinforced a sense that this was the one form of racism Harvard wasn’t bothered about. Since then, Gay was revealed to have engaged in the kind of plagiarism and sloppy sourcing that would have led to any undergraduate being run out of the Ivy League.
For those who have been bravely standing against the woke tyranny on college campuses, Gay’s resignation will be greeted as a massive victory. Her departure is undoubtedly a win for anyone who prizes basic fairness. The rules that apply to students and faculty, it seems, can also apply to Harvard’s president.
In contrast, those people whose careers have been built on pushing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – an anodyne term for a toxic ideology predicated on divisive identity politics and rampant authoritarianism – have rallied to Gay’s defence. All too predictably, they have smeared all of her critics as racist.
America’s foremost race grifter, Ibram X Kendi, likened the criticism of Gay to a ‘racist mob’. He skated over her alleged indiscretions entirely. Instead, he asked us to think about what would have happened if Gay were white. (He is apparently unaware of the recent resignations of Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, for research misconduct, and of Penn president Liz Magill, for her similarly woeful response to campus anti-Semitism.)
I think Bret Stephens asked the more interesting question in his New York Times column this week: how did Gay ‘who has published only 11 journal articles in 26 years and made no seminal contributions in her field… reach the pinnacle of American academia’? Might Gay’s identity – and the desire for ‘diversity’ and ‘representation’ above all else – have played a role here?
Meanwhile, Nikole Hannah-Jones, beloved by self-flagellating white progressives as the creator of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, tweeted: ‘This is an extension of what happened to me… Academic freedom is under attack… Black women will be made to pay.’
Academic freedom is indeed under attack in the US, and has been for many years now. But these attacks have come from woke college administrators, not from Gay’s critics. Nor is Gay being punished for her academic work. She has been forced to resign because of the exposure of her alleged theft of other people’s academic work.
Besides, despite the glaring inaccuracies in Ms Hannah-Jones’s own work, she is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Genius Grant, the Knight Award for Public Service, the Peabody Award, two George Polk awards and the three National Magazine Awards. Was this the kind of cruel payback she was referring to?
For her own part, Gay’s resignation letter was a masterful example of deflection and gaslighting. She wrote of her ‘commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigour’ – a bit rich for a woman who a month ago shrugged off questions about open Jew hatred on her campus and has been accused of nearly 50 incidents of plagiarism. She also threw in a poor-me bit, writing that she had been ‘subjected to personal attacks and threats fuelled by racial animus’.
For those of us who abhor the identitarianism that has overrun academia, the end of Gay’s tenure at Harvard is a reason to celebrate. But the incentives to pander to the toxic hypocrisies of DEI remain strong. As does the tokenism that rewards people based on optics rather than attainment. This culture permeates not just academia, but also government and big business.
So let’s enjoy this rare victory for reason and fairness. But let’s also steel ourselves for bigger battles ahead.
Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.
Picture by: Getty.
To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.